Archive for the The poetry of artistic failure Category

lines from The Painter’s Game

by Janelle Morehart

…What of the painter?
What of him indeed
Poor painter
You strive so hard
And in the end you get nothing
But you’re happy
Forever happy
Like this is a great joke
People love the paintings
Therefore they love you
And every feeling they feel for the art
Passion, lust, love or whatever else they may feel
It will be all for you
But they’ll never know
It will be our secret
Just you and me
Our little secret
We’ll call it the Painter’s Game
A funny little joke it is
The whole world has been played
Without ever knowing
What a funny game it is
The Painter’s Game

Have Paintbrush, Will Travel

A picture is worth more than a thousand words to the Canadian artist Katherine Dolgy Ludwig, who trades her watercolors for lodging at the homes of professors on sabbaticals.

Through the rental matchmaking service SabbaticalHomes.com, Ms. Ludwig has house-sat for academics in New York, London, Los Angeles, Paris, and Wales over the past seven years. Instead of paying them money, she gives them one of her vibrant artworks.

“Hosts can choose any of my paintings,” she says, “but often they’ll pick one I’ve done while living in their home. They say, ‘Wow, that’s my rug,’ or ‘That’s my kitchen in the background,’ or ‘There’s my pet,’ so there’s a personal connection with the painting.”

Ms. Ludwig trained as an architect but switched to painting and taught at the Ontario College of Art & Design. In 2006 she decided to paint full time. That has resulted in a series of fellowships in the United States and Europe, during which she cares for professors’ homes and, occasionally, their pets for weeks or months at a time while she paints and exhibits her artworks.

“It’s a very old tradition for artists to trade their work for necessities,” says Ms. Ludwig, who during one memorable house-sit three years ago “paint jammed” with the jazz musician Ornette Coleman, putting him and his band on canvas while they played on Manhattan’s Lower West Side.

As an artist on the rise, Ms. Ludwig has seen her paintings, bartered and otherwise, appreciate in value over the years.

“One of the first I traded was worth about $2,000 then,” she says. “Today it would be valued around $10,000.”

My grandmother, Billie Sinclair (Noland) Barnes passed away on Wednesday morning, September 3, 2008, at 5:05 am Pacific Daylight Saving Time, after a long illness. She was 84 years old, and survived by her husband, John Wesley Barnes, son Jay, daughter Pamela, and three grandkids.

The poem posted below—which was originally posted on CAFA on May 15, 2008, just after the death of Robert Rauschenberg—was actually intended to be a tribute to my Grandma Billie, who had just become bedridden at that time. I’ve added an additional Postscript, in honor of my grandmother’s death, to the version I originally posted on this site. Enjoy.

The 1964 Venice Biennale

for Billie

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie Ruth,
celebrated the twenty-somethingth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

(Postscript)
Then, in 2008,
In the spring of the year,
I passed through Captiva Island,
Where Rauschenberg kept his own council as he faded,
And my grandparents in California
Barked at hospice workers,
Accusing them of swiping their savings,
And treated their family like gold-digging strangers.
When my mother shunned Billie Ruth’s funeral in September,
I sent a note to the artist Noland—
Though he wouldn’t know me from Adam—
And he replied that he had fond memories of her.

Friends of Failure, and sundry outlying readers of CAFA, in case you’re wondering why production has fallen off of late on this site just know it’s not a sign of the end times. I’m currently in the midst of several upcoming projects, including an analysis of the state of Minneapolis arts and a longish essay on the f*cked up nature of young artists these days (both of which I will discuss/link to on this Chronicle in due time…).

Also, I’ve been working to establish a new arts writing initiative (and ruminating on the nature of “success” in the wacky world of arts writing), seeking (and closing in on) new daily sustenance, dabbling at some poetry (in an effort to keep myself sane), organizing community events, and giving a careful reading to Bill Ivey’s intensely documented and highly opinionated new book, Arts Inc.

It’s summer, after all—the perfect time to step back a bit from the usual goings on to ruminate somewhat on what it all means. And so that is what I’m doing…

I promise things’ll pick up (quite a bit, in fact) in future weeks here on the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

An alert reader recently forwarded to me, upon reading my essay about the artistic drive, a poem by Marge Piercy. I was so amazed by how closely this poem’s tone and subject matches up with the tone of my essay that I simply had to post it.

By the way, phlogiston, according to the artist who send the poem, is an alchemical term referring to the hidden fire that lives in wood before it is actually burned. Enjoy the poem.

For the Young Who Want To

by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.